South China Sea
The South China Sea lies to the south of the China mainland and is bounded by the coastlines of the People's Republic of China (PRC), Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan. In the south-west it becomes the Gulf of Thailand. To the south the Serat Karimata gives access to the Java Sea; to the east the Balabac and Mindoro straits give access to the Sulu Sea and the Luzon Strait north of the Philippines gives access to the Pacific Ocean. The South China Sea contains a number of small island groups, uninhabited or inhabited only on a temporary basis by fishermen or by military detachments. These include the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that roughly 80% of global trade by volume and 70% by value is transported by sea. Of that volume, 60% of maritime trade passes through Asia, with the South China Sea carrying an estimated one-third of global shipping.
The People's Republic of China lays claim to all the islands in the South China Sea and shipping lanes; these claims are disputed by other nations bordering the sea. This rivalry is given added impetus by the large oil and gas reserves known to exist in the area.